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Music Review

Carols across Europe, through time

By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / December 23, 2008
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WORCESTER - It's ironic that the Musicians of the Old Post Road, in concert-by-concert transit of their namesake thoroughfare, were done in by a parking ban, but Mayor Menino's edict in the face of last Friday's storm forced cancellation of their Christmas concert at Emmanuel Church. (The concert is rescheduled at that locale for Dec. 27 at 3 p.m.) Snow notwithstanding, last Saturday's concert, farther down the path in Worcester, went off as planned.

The program itself traversed Baroque-era Europe for its holiday fare. Michel-Richard Delalande's "No??ls en Trio," a decorative medley of French carols, made a grand opening. Harpsichordist Michael Bahmann and cellist (and Old Post Road co-director) Daniel Ryan's richly embroidered continuo supported intricate blends of the sharpened focus of period violins (Sarah Darling and Abigail Karr) with the feathered edges of traverso flute (the group's other director, Suzanne Stumpf).

Michel Corrette's "Concerto No??l Suisse" shows a French composer proselytizing for the Baroque Italian novelty of the concerto via some borrowed Swiss carols. With Stumpf taking the lead, the music interrupted its own polished discourse with brief instrumental breaks and unison choruses, effecting an offhanded elegance.

Soprano Kristen Watson and mezzo-soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore sang Louis-Nicolas Cl??rambault's modestly joyous "Hodie Christus natus est" with a paradigmatic early-music timbre: light, mostly without vibrato, prizing flexibility and clarity.

The pair scintillated in Francisco de Santiago's "Ay como flecha la ni??a Rayos," a sun-drenched villancico in celebration of the Virgin Mary, a 17th-century girl-power anthem of zigzag rhythms and shiny bounce. Rentz-Moore then tackled Georg Philip Telemann's cantata "Abscheuliche Tiefe des grossen Verderbens!" ("Loathsome depths of eternal corruption!"), a dark reminder of the contrasting bookend to Christ's birth, its heavy tread lashed by dotted rhythms and syncopations.

Each singer took on an extended work in the second half. Watson sang a "Gloria" ascribed to Handel in 2001, an attribution under healthy debate ever since. The music displays Handel's energy but not much of his melodic efficacy, lavishing coloratura sparkle that Watson dispatched with bright, clean precision, while revealing some vocal bloom in more middle registers.

Rentz-Moore, relying more on scrupulous projection of the sounds of the words than variation in vocal color to transmit the drama, showed the Gloria from the other side in Alessandro Scarlatti's "Cantata Pastorale."

A shepherd compares angelic radiance to a shift in the seasons, diminished-chord winter giving way to a spring of dulcet thirds in the violins. "My eyes delight," the final aria sings, "in seeing, in the middle of ice, the flower." Add a parking spot, and it's a lovely evening.

MUSICIANS OF THE OLD POST ROAD "Christmas in Baroque Europe"

At: Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Saturday (repeats Dec. 27, at 3 p.m. at Emmanuel Church)

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